The Oculus Rift and related VR gear are going to be used for a lot more than games. Here’s four ways that the US military is getting in on the VR space…
Surprise: The US military is as fascinated with virtual reality as gamers and utopian dreamers. Here’s four ways that the military is implementing or planning on implementing VR…
1. Simulations for Flight, Battlefield and Vehicle Training
Technology in the military is always on the cutting edge; so much so that proper training is needed in order to operate these items. The Air Force, for example, has recently acquired fifth generation fighter jets like the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II, that are so powerful that the generals are unable to unleash realistic combat experiences during training. Shooting off live missiles in the skies during large training events is not possible in real life. These limitations can be addressed by creating virtual reality simulations where people can test the equipment without the constant fear of crashing new and expensive planes, thus burning everything down to a crisp.
As reported in Air Force Times, military officials are using virtual flight simulators to try out all the “bells and whistles” before sending soldiers into the air. The experiences are getting so good that it’s beginning to get hard to tell whether the person is in a real environment or a simulated one. Granted, the sensory inputs that are felt during physical combat haven’t been replicated yet, but the technology is rapidly approaching that ability.
The 101st Airborne also utilizes VR by strapping their trainees into custom wearable suits that connect wirelessly to computer servers. The headsets and motion capture sensors attached come complete with a vast range of replica weapons. These guns provide haptic feedback, and have all the functionality of a real weapon, short of firing actual bullets.
2. Medical Training
Another area of training is preparing medics for the unpredictable aspects of war.
Plextek Consulting and Bespoke VR have created simulations for medics who are about enter battle; the UK’s Defense Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL) funded the project. In the virtual simulation, the trainees have to negotiate and prioritize the needs of virtual soldiers who have sustained injuries in the war. It is designed to teach the importance of teamwork in stressful situations that can be found when under fire from the enemy. The system records respiratory rates, pulse counts, blood pressure to ensure that person inside the experience does overexert themselves.
3. Controlling Drones
Sending out unmanned vehicles into a war zone is a fantastic way to scout out the environment. It reduces the risk of death by replacing a person with a robot. Instead of putting soldiers in direct danger during the surveillance process, military officials can use drones controlled by VR headsets and command devices to check out the area.
Quadcopter companies like Parrot have recently been showcasing the combination of UAVs and VR headsets, mostly as marketing stunts. This intermingling of virtual reality technology and remote-controlled drones produces something that naturally fits well in the military.
Looking at controlling UAVs in a more abstract way shows that VR can train drone operators within a simulation. No longer do the trainers have to worry about weather conditions or other uncontrollable factors. With virtual reality, they can simulate a drone and operate it inside a computer generated experience. The MxR Lab at USC has a demonstration that does just that: It’s called BlueShark, and puts the person in a virtual “War Room” where one can navigate a virtual Navy destroyer. In addition, with the use of motion capture gloves, the person wearing a custom headset named the Wide5 can inhabit an unmanned drone from within the simulation.
4. Overcoming PTSD and Other Mental Injuries
PTSD is typically managed with a combination of several types of therapy and/or medication. However, with the advancement of virtual reality systems, simulations can now be created to help the soldier overcome the traumatic event.
Researchers at USC have developed a form of VR exposure therapy which is effective enough in reducing PTSD symptoms that it’s been adopted by over 60 facilities, including military bases, universities, and VA hospitals.
There is also a Virtual Reality Medical Center based in San Diego, California that has been exploring the use of simulation technologies for over ten years. Their website shows that they focus on three main areas: “1) treating patients with anxiety disorders, 2) training for both military and civilian populations, and 3) enhancing various educational programs.” In regards to treating people with anxiety, they provide military treatment for those affected by PTSD.